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FROM THIS EPISODE

Where Do Venezuela, Japan and Paris Meet?
The Answer Is...

I hope, I really do, that it had nothing to do with "schadenfreude"--you know this peculiar German word describing the joy one experiences at the misfortune of others. Reading and listening to the news about the misfortune of New Yorkers during the New York transit workers strike, which virtually paralyzed life in the Big Apple, I couldn't help but feel extra happy driving around LA on one of those picture perfect sunny afternoons that Angels like to bestow on their city at this time of year.

My first stop was at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, where I saw the exhibition of Venezuelan artist Jes-s Rafael Soto, the master of kinetic art. His work was well presented in "Beyond Geometry", a huge international exhibition of mid-20th century art organized by LACMA last year. While work of many artists of this period has rather academic interest for me, the kinetic constructions by Soto came across as full of life and even spunk. Soto's exhibition at the Museum of Latin American Art includes 25 works borrowed from private and public collections including the Hirshhorn and Guggenheim Museums. This beautifully installed and well-focused exhibition tells the story of the charismatic artist who was born and educated in Venezuela and moved to Paris permanently in the 1950's. Most of Soto's works in the exhibition look deceptively simple: minimalistic constructions consisting of two separate layers of geometric patterns. These two layers are overlapping but never touch each other: there is a space between them of about two inches. Using a very limited palette, usually black and white and only occasionally primary colors, the artist achieves a great variety of optical effects. Before your very eyes, his geometric compositions come to life and, literally, tremble with the slightest movement that you make in front of them. I bet my bottom dollar that when you see the exhibition catalogue with its three dimensional reproduction of Soto's work smartly embedded into its thick cover, your response will be the same as mine: WOW!

The trip from the working class neighborhood of MoLAA to the old-world, elegant quarters of the Long Beach Museum of Art, perched on the bluffs overlooking the ocean, is only a few short miles. I drove there to see the solo exhibition of Mineo Mizuno, virtuoso ceramic sculptor, who was born in Japan but now lives in America. The artist's sharp sense of humor makes you smile while looking at his amusingly distorted cups or dinner place settings, that appear broken or even chewed upon by drunken guests. At the entrance, there are five imposing 6 feet tall steles whose severe geometric forms create a dramatic contrast with the subtle colors of the glaze applied in semi-translucent layers. This effect brings to mind the technique of Old Master paintings. There are more surprises offered by several large oval-shaped, floor-bound ceramic sculptures that are several feet in diameter. They look like giant water droplets that hit the floor. While no one looked, I ran my hand over their surface to enjoy their rich texture. Concurrently, an exhibition of Mineo Mizuno's sculptures can be seen here in LA at the Patricia Faure Gallery at Bergamot Station. Especially appealing are three oval ceramic droplets weighing close to 1,000 pounds each. Their glaze ranges from shimmering black to rich hues of red and brown which wouldn't be out of place in the late paintings by Titian.

So, ladies and gentlemen, after all the rich food you consumed during the holidays--start moving! Jump in the car and give yourself an aesthetic workout. I wish you a lot of good art and a Happy New Year.

Jes-s Rafael Soto: The Universality of the Immaterial
Museum of Latin American Art
On view until March 19, 2006

Crossing Boundaries: The Ceramic Sculpture of Mineo Mizuno
Long Beach Museum of Art On view until January 15, 2006

Mineo Mizuno
Patricia Faure Gallery On view until January 14, 2006

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